Roasted Garlic Pasta Salad

$8.53 recipe / $1.06 serving

This pasta salad is super easy to throw together and is surprisingly filling! I was also really happy with how creamy and delicious it was, despite the fact that I used part-skim ricotta. It looks and tastes like a really creamy, guilt-inducing pasta salad, when really it’s quite innocent!

Half of the reason that I wanted to make this pasta salad is that I wanted to try out a technique that I’ve been seeing around the internet: roasting garlic in the microwave. I ruined one head of garlic in the process, but I think I got it right after that. The end result isn’t as caramelized as real, oven roasted garlic, but the flavor is definitely good enough to make this technique worth it when you’re in a hurry. Roasting garlic in an oven can take almost an hour and this only takes 2 minutes – literally!

There are a few different techniques that I’ve seen, some microwaving for a minute or so, and some for up to 8 minutes (with water added), but I found 2 minutes with no water to be just right for me. I’m sure every microwave is different and each head of garlic will require a slightly different amount of time to cook, so I suggest microwaving in small, one minute increments until you get the technique just right. You want the garlic to be soft, and very fragrant, not brown and hard. Microwaving past the point of softness will only lead you down the road to burnville, and believe me, it doesn’t taste or smell pretty!

Oh, one more thing. If you have access to inexpensive fresh basil, it would be to-die-for in this recipe. Just add it on in with the spinach or even in place of the spinach!

Roasted Garlic Pasta

roasted garlic pasta salad

3.9 from 14 reviews
roasted garlic pasta salad
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Total Cost: $8.53
Cost Per Serving: $1.06
Serves: 8
  • 1 head garlic $0.59
  • ½ Tbsp olive oil $0.09
  • 1 lb. pasta shells $1.29
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese $2.45
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan $0.23
  • to taste salt & pepper $0.05
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes $2.50
  • 3 cups baby spinach $1.33
  1. Using a sharp knife, cut approximately ½ inch off the top of the head of garlic. Place the garlic bulb in a small bowl or dish and drizzle ½ tablespoon of olive oil over the exposed cloves. Cover the bowl with an inverted plate. Microwave on high, in one minute increments, until the garlic is soft and fragrant (about 2 minutes). Use caution when touching the dishes, they will be very hot. Allow the garlic to cool.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add the pasta, and cook for 7-10 minutes or until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the starchy pasta cooking water.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, squeeze the garlic cloves from the head and mince well. Add the minced garlic to a medium bowl along with the ricotta cheese, a healthy dose of freshly cracked pepper, and about ½ tsp of salt. Add the ½ cup of hot, starchy pasta cooking water. Stir until it forms a smooth sauce.
  4. Drain the pasta. Return the drained pasta to the warm pot (the burner should be turned off). Add the fresh baby spinach and pour the ricotta sauce over top. Slice the cherry tomatoes and add them to the pot as well. Stir until everything is well mixed. Add in the parmesan cheese and stir again. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm!

roasted garlic pasta salad

Step By Step Photos

cut top off of garlicTo cook the garlic in the microwave, begin by cutting a little off the top of the head to expose the cloves.

drizzle garlic with oilPlace the head of garlic in a small dish or bowl and drizzle about a half tablespoon of olive oil over the exposed cloves. This will help keep them from burning.

lidPlace an inverted plate over top of your bowl or dish. Microwave on high, in one minute increments, until the garlic is soft and very fragrant. Mine took two minutes and after that it began to burn (even when I added water to the dish). The garlic will hiss and pop during cooking, and some of the cloves may jump out of the head!

roasted garlicWhen it’s finished, it will be soft, kind of mushy, and it will smell really REALLY good. The cloves will be about the same color as they were fresh, but they will look slightly transparant. Allow the garlic to cool.

minced garlicOnce it’s cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves out of the head and mince them. They’ll likely be pretty sticky.

cook pastaBring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta shells according to the package directions (boil 7-10 minutes). When the water gets cloudy and starchy (like in the picture), dip in a measuring cup and reserve a half cup of it for the sauce.

ricottaWhile the pasta is cooking, place the minced garlic, ricotta cheese, freshly cracked pepper, and about a 1/2 tsp of salt in a bowl.

ricotta sauceAdd a half cup of the hot, starchy pasta water and stir until it is all smooth.

cherry tomatoesSlice the cherry tomatoes in half.

combine ingredientsWhen the pasta is finished cooking, drain it well and then return it to the warm pot (make sure the burner is turned off). Add the fresh baby spinach, the ricotta sauce, and sliced tomatoes. The residual heat will slightly wilt the spinach leaves.

stir to combineStir everything until combined, and then add the parmesan cheese and stir again. The reason I added the parmesan at the end is because I didn’t want it to melt from the heat. Once everything is combined, the temperature is considerably lower and you won’t have melted parmesan cheese clumping up and sticking to the spoon. It just evenly coats everything instead.

roasted garlic pasta saladTaste the pasta salad and add salt and pepper as needed. I like to add freshly cracked pepper to each serving.


  1. Megan says:

    I’m not sure where I went wrong with this recipe but this did not taste as delicious as I’d hoped. Maybe it’s the ricotta but overall it seemed very bland. Looked beautiful, but bland. I even added extra spices. I’m hoping that maybe tomorrow it will taste a little better but I’m thinking this wont be on my dinner table again.

    • Jeannette says:

      Same here! I just made this and it came out pretty bland. I think the addition of pasta water diluted some of the flavor. With an entire head of roasted garlic you’d think the flavor would be quite potent! A bit of parm and pepper with each serving might wake it up.

  2. Colleen M says:

    Can I use Greek yogurt and ricotta maybe mixed with parm? Just to cut out some cals? Thanks

    • Hmm. I don’t know. I’ve never tried to mix Greek yogurt with Ricotta before. I don’t think that’s a substitute I would try for this recipe, though.

    • Tsewang says:

      I made this the other day with greek yogurt instead of ricotta (already had some around and didn’t feel like spending more $), and it came out really good! I’m not sure about mixing them either, but using greek yogurt as a substitution works great. I would recommend seasoning the yogurt to cut down some of the sweet/tangy flavor.

  3. barb says:

    Hi there, wondering if anyone has tried this recipe with quinoa or other gluten free food-rather than pasta? looks delish>


  4. Holly says:

    FYI- it’s a FIST of garlic. Lettuce comes in heads.

  5. Thanks for this! My friend gets an Italian Pasta Salad from the Yokes Deli & I was wanting something similiar. That version is really cheesy so I added shredded parmesan & cheese tortellini along with a dash of dried basil.

  6. Kayly says:

    I am planning on making this recipe for a potluck tomorrow, and I JUST noticed the part where is says “serve warm”! Ahh! Will it still be okay to serve cold?? Or should I try and make it as close to the potluck as possible and try to keep it warm the best I can?


  7. Jane says:

    Thank you for instructions for a wonderful pasta salad! It IS perfect, has fresh, clean (if you like garlic of course!! I DO!) flavors. To those who complain, understand that being a “good cook” is about adjusting an already excellent recipe to your personal tastes (not about whining because you don’t understand that)….AND that pasta salad reaches it’s perfect flavor after resting overnight. Need more _______? Don’t fuss, just add it! I began making pasta salads when they first became popular 30 years ago and was considered a bit of a pioneer in that area….my opinion…love this!

  8. Karen says:

    This recipe is great as is, or adding more spice to taste. Seriously though, for those who feel the need to rewrite the recipe completely, those are not “tweaks”. Post them on your own blog. Beth, thanks for a delicious simple recipe with affordable, easy to find ingredients!

  9. So yum! I am always looking foe mayo alternatives. Can’t get ricotta but will use Greek yogurt. Instead

  10. I love this recipe. Although I did make a couple of changes to it. I am a sucker for roasting garlic in the oven so I did that because I had the time. I also roasted my tomatoes in the oven as well. I think it makes them a little sweeter and it adds a different depth of flavor. I also cooked down some onion and red peppers in a pan with a bit of olive oil. When they were almost ready (still have a little crunch to them) I wilted spinach and half of May fresh basil. Very delicious :)

  11. Heaven! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Wendy says:

    im on a diet can anybody tell me how many calories would be in one serving.and how big is the serving please help thanks

  13. Courtney says:

    This recipe looks delicious! I will definitely try it out.

    Just a question, for the leftovers, did you reheat it or serve it chilled? It seems like it would be delicious as a chilled pasta salad. Thanks :)

  14. Marisa says:

    So yummy… I went for oven roasted garlic, but will definitely try the microwaved version soon. Here are some other variations I tried, mostly due to suggestions I read from others who have commented:

    Definitely added extra seasonings, but I always do that :)
    Wilted the spinach with olive oil and garlic
    Added scallions
    Finished with pitted kalamata olives (yum!)
    I also tried adding chicken, but I personally don’t think it’s necessary.

    Thanks for the recipe!

  15. Ashley says:

    I’m eating this as we speak for lunch! Just made this and it is absolutely delicious! I 90% followed the instructions as written, but tweeked a few things after reading many of the reviews and seeing a LOT of the same “issues”. First off, I chickened out on the garlic-in-the-microwave technique, but mainly because I am pretty limited on garlic right now and didn’t wanna risk burning it. I minced the garlic head then put it in my toaster oven with some olive oil at 250° and kept an eye on it. Only had it in for about a minute. While waiting for my water to boil for the pasta, I decided to mix the spinach, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and the chicken broth that I substituted for the 1/2 cup of startch water the recipe calls for in a pan on the stove on low heat with some salt and pepper. As the noodles and mixture cooked, both for about 8 mins, I mixed the ricotta and parm in a large bowl, added a few blue cheese crumbles, and seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne, a little red pepper flakes, basil, and garlic powder. I then added the mixture and the noodles to the bowl, tossed, and voila! I taste tested and just tweeked to my taste buds with more of some of the seasons I previously listed along with a smidge more parm. Mine came out with a slight kick, as I had hoped since I am a spice fan. Far from bland as many reviewers are suggesting. Fast and easy… Will make again!

    • Ashley says:

      Almost forgot, I added some fresh scallions as well which I am very pleased I did to give it a little crunch now and then.

  16. Andrea says:

    Great recipe, I thought the combinations were great. I added some more spices past the salt and pepper to add more flavor, cayenne to add a kick. I also added some cooked chicken and avocado for added protein. Great recipe, thanks for sharing.

  17. Brad says:

    All I gotta say is. I haven’t even eaten it yet. You have to be the best recipe author I have ever read! I felt like I was reading fifty shades of grey for food. Do you have a cookbook?

  18. Kristy says:

    I agree with most that say it’s pretty plain, so I threw all sorts of concoctions in it (garlic salt, cayenne pepper, seasoned salt) I also threw in tuna that someone suggested. I like the little add of protein. I might make this again….

  19. Lisa says:

    I thought this was very flavorful, of course I don’t measure spices (just pour it in my hand and eyeball it) so there was plenty of salt and pepper. I also minced up fresh basil and added it with the spinach. Can’t wait to eat it as leftovers, I’m sure it will be even better!

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